Repost: Birds diversified in “big bang” after dinosaurs died out

Birds diversified in big bang after dinosaurs died out.

Reposted from World Science.

A ma­jor new study sheds new light on how and when birds evolved and ac­quired fea­tures such as feath­ers, flight and song, sci­en­tists say.

The study charts a burst of ev­o­lu­tion that took place af­ter the di­no­saurs sud­denly died out, about 66 mil­lion years ago. Sci­en­tists say this burst oc­curr­ed as new forms exploited op­port­uni­ties left open by the absence of the din­o­saurs, some of which were the an­cest­ors of these same birds. With­in 10 mil­lion years, re­search­ers found, the avian ex­plos­ion created rep­re­sen­ta­tives of nearly all the ma­jor bird lin­eages with us to­day.

The four-year proj­ect de­cod­ed and com­pared the en­tire ge­net­ic fin­ger­print of 48 bird spe­cies to rep­re­sent all these lin­eages—in­clud­ing the wood­peck­er, owl, pen­guin, hum­ming­bird and fla­min­go.

Re­search­ers al­so com­pared these genomes with those of three oth­er rep­tile spe­cies and hu­mans.

They found that bird­song evolved se­pa­rate­ly at least twice. Par­rots and song­birds gained the abil­ity to learn and mim­ic vo­cal ac­ti­vity in­de­pend­ently of hum­ming­birds, de­spite shar­ing many of the same genes.

The find­ings are con­sid­ered im­por­tant be­cause some of brain pro­cesses that are in­volved in bird sing­ing are al­so as­so­ci­at­ed with hu­man speech.

Birds are the most ge­o­graph­ic­ally di­verse group of land an­i­mals. They help sci­en­tists in­ves­t­i­gate fun­da­men­tal ques­tions in bi­ol­o­gy and ecol­o­gy and they are al­so a ma­jor glob­al food re­source, pro­vid­ing meat and eggs.

More than 200 sci­en­tists con­tri­but­ed to the Avi­an Phy­loge­nomics Proj­ect, which was led by BGI in Shen­zhen, Chi­na, the Uni­vers­ity of Co­pen­ha­gen, Duke Uni­vers­ity in North Car­o­li­na, the How­ard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute based in Chevy Chase, Md., and the Nat­u­ral His­to­ry Mu­se­um of Den­mark. The find­ings are pub­lished in 23 sci­en­tif­ic pa­pers, in­clud­ing eight in the jour­nal Sci­ence.

Build­ing on this re­search, sci­en­tists at the Na­t­ional Avi­an Re­search Facil­ity in Ed­in­burgh have cre­at­ed 48 da­tabases to share and ex­pand on the in­forma­t­ion as­so­ci­at­ed with the birds’ genomes. They hope that re­search­ers from around the world will con­tin­ue to up­load their own da­ta, of­fer­ing fur­ther in­sights to the ge­net­ics of mod­ern birds.

Such in­forma­t­ion is ex­pected to be use­ful for help­ing sci­en­tists to un­der­stand why in­fec­tious dis­eases, such as bird flu, af­fect some spe­cies but not oth­ers.

“This is just the be­gin­ning. We hope that giv­ing peo­ple the tools to ex­plore this wealth of bird gene in­forma­t­ion in one place will stim­u­late fur­ther re­search,” said Da­vid Burt, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­t­ional Avi­an Re­search Facil­ity at the Uni­vers­ity of Ed­in­burgh’s Roslin In­sti­tute.

“Ul­ti­mately, we hope the re­search will br­ing im­por­tant in­sights to help im­prove the health and wel­fare of wild and farmed birds.”

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